31813_beslerdempsey_isi_usmntmj020513041 Michael Janosz/isiphotos.com
Roster Analysis

For U.S., Success Rests with Inexperienced Defenders

Jon Arnold takes a look at the American roster that will train in advance of the matches with Costa Rica and Mexico. It's thin, especially on the defensive front, but Jurgen Klinsmann is making a statement.
BY Jon Arnold Posted
March 18, 2013
3:08 PM
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Jurgen Klinsmann’s team was hit by injuries at one of the worst possible times, and the U.S. boss responded by calling in a side marked by fresh faces for the World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico.

The back line is untested to be generous and inexperienced to be blunt. The six players combine for a dozen caps in World Cup qualifying and half of them have only one cap, all of which came just last month. Klinsmann elected to bring in players who are currently playing matches, with Carlos Bocanegra dropped from the team after a period of inactivity with Racing Santander. Even harsher is his decision not to call in Michael Parkhurst, who was the starting left back for the Americans just two qualifiers ago in a victory against Guatemala in Kansas City.

Injuries to Steve Cherundolo, Fabian Castillo, Timmy Chandler, and Edgar Castillo clearly tied the manager’s hands in his defensive selections, but the sudden reversal toward calling in only players who are getting games is eyebrow raising. This is a coach who continued bringing Maurice Edu into the team when he’d had hardly even a cup of coffee in the Premier League. Even more puzzling is the inclusion of Clarence Goodson, who only recently returned to the Brondby starting XI on a worse team in the same division Parkhurst just left. The takeaway has to be that Klinsmann liked enough of what he saw from Omar Gonzalez in the Honduras qualifier to start him against Costa Rica and Mexico, though he might not have much of a choice. Tony Beltran and Justin Morrow both are having successful starts to the MLS season—Morrow was a surprise goalscorer this weekend—but if one of them is thrust onto the field at the Azteca, the skilled Mexican wingers will immediately give them the toughest test of their careers.

Edu himself is an interesting proposition. He played alongside fellow Stoke man Geoff Cameron at center back when the red, white, and blue upset Mexico in that famous friendly win in Mexico City. Now, after being loaned to Bursaspor, he’s regularly seeing action in the midfield again. Though he’s listed as a midfielder, Klinsmann could be tempted to see if lightning can strike twice, or he could put Edu next to Gonzalez and push Cameron to the right back spot where he typically lines up for the Potters.

With the fullbacks untested, the wide play in the midfield will be even more vital. With that in mind, Klinsmann looks to DaMarcus Beasley, an experienced midfielder sitting on 97 caps. Beasley has had a resurgence in Mexico this year but doesn’t often go the full 90 for Puebla. At the very least, he provides some of the veteran presence missing without Bocanegra and can impart wisdom on playing in the Azteca to his younger counterparts. That includes Brek Shea, who had some success of his own against Mexico. Shea himself is coming off an injury but has started brightly in the Premier League after joining Stoke in January. He might be called upon to provide some of the width and service that was lacking in Honduras when Graham Zusi and Sacha Kljestan struggled, or we could see Klinsmann ask that duo to improve on its performance.

In a strange twist, there’s little to no panic about the forwards. Jozy Altidore is in rare form for his club, as is Herculez Gomez. Terrence Boyd can be a change of pace off the bench and after an excellent 2012 for club and country, Eddie Johnson is again in the squad.

There are also few concerns about the team’s two best players, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley. Dempsey returned from an injury to play a half for Tottenham this weekend and Bradley came on as a sub for Roma and should have fresh legs in the midfield. With all the uncertainty swirling about, these two are the rock of the United States team. Dempsey is comfortable in his floating attacking mid/forward role that he’s usually filling when in the national team shirt. Bradley, ASN’s current No. 1 ranked American player, can be relied on to win back possession, distribute wisely, and put in a goal when the team can’t find one.

Another model of consistency, goalkeeper Tim Howard, is also injured, but the American Outlaws and other fans have already had time to cope with this loss. It’s easier to handle than the team’s other absences because there’s a readymade replacement in Brad Guzan. Nick Rimando is set to be the second option. While Bill Hamid has been more impressive in MLS play, Sean Johnson gets the call to be the emergency keeper. It’s a minor quibble, and hopefully it doesn’t come to that point.

Both the Ticos and El Tri bring in squads nearly at full strength with fearsome attackers headlining each. It’s obvious the Stars and Stripes will go as the young defense goes. The rash of injuries have created problems for the team and opportunities for the young players. It also sees Klinsmann throwing his chips in on the young guys, rather than calling in old hands struggling in Europe like Bocanegra, Parkhurst, or Oguchi Onyewu. Those players will sink or swim against some of CONCACAF’s best. If they sink Klinsmann could go down with the ship, but he hardly had any choice but to take the gamble.

Jon Arnold (@ArnoldcommaJon) is a writer based in Arizona and is ASN's CONCACAF correspondent.

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